Baseline to Baseline recaps: The Sixers are legit

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What you missed while rock climbing with your 2-year-old strapped to your back

Sixers 98, Bulls 82: The 76ers are legit. That fast start wasn’t the soft schedule, they are a quality squad.

Good ball movement will beat even the best defense, and that’s what the story was here. They have balance — five guys with 14 points or more, Andre Iguodala and Thaddeus Young each had 19 — and you can’t defend it. They have a versatility, which let’s them select the matchup they want then pick-and-roll it all night. They don’t turn the ball over (but Chicago did). Philly controlled this game most of the way and the Bulls rested their starters the fourth quarter (Chicago was without Luol Deng and Richard Hamilton). Derrick Rose had 18, C.J. Watson had 20 off the bench.

Bucks 105, Heat 97: Miami scored 40 points in the first quarter — LeBron James had 23 alone (he finished with 40) — and the team shot 82 percent. Miami was up 16 points after 12 minutes. And the rout was on.

Except nobody told the Bucks. The Heat played their worst ball of the season in the final 36 minutes, particularly on the defensive end (although the turnovers were almost as bad). The Bucks to their credit didn’t just roll over. Milwaukee started the second half on a 13-2 run to make it close, then they started the fourth quarter on a 22-3 run to take a 17-point lead. Brandon Jennings had 20 points in the second half and had a monster game.

The Bucks made that entire run with Stephen Jackson on the bench, he only played in the first quarter (and got worn out by a hot LeBron). The Bucks now have beaten Miami twice this season.

Magic, 109, Wizards 103: After four straight losses Magic will take the win, even if they let the team with the worst offense in the NBA put up 103 on them. The Magic’s defense was bad (except on John Wall who hit just 1-of-12 shots but did have 10 assists). Their offense was good enough to counter it — Dwight Howard and Ryan Anderson each had 23, J.J. Redick had 21.

Celtics 100, Raptors 64: If you type “what does a rout look like?” into Google, videos of this game should come up. Boston took over with a 16-1 run in the first quarter, Kevin Garnett played just 5 minutes in the second half.

Nets 99, Pistons 96: The Nets had the best player on the floor by far in Deron Williams, he had 10 of his 26 points in the fourth quarter. In a game like this — a bucket of slop — having the best player gets you the win.

Pacers 109, Timberwolves 99: The first half saw a display of what you can call good defense or bad shooting, depending on if you’re a glass half full guy or not. The second half was the Danny Granger show, as he had 27 of his 36 points after the break — plus a little dustup with Kevin love — to lead the Pacers to the win.

Thunder 95, Mavericks 86: The Thunder had their best defensive game of the season — Serge Ibaka le the way with 10 blocks and the OKC defense held the Mavericks to 35.7 percent shooting on the night. That was the story. Russell Westbrook had 12 of his 33 in the fourth quarter.

Suns 120, Hornets 103: Steve Nash returned after missing several games with a thigh injury and exploded for 30 points and 10 assists to lead Phoenix to a win.

Spurs 99, Rockets 91: Houston led by as many as 19 and seemed in control until an 11-0 run made it close midway through the third. San Antonio closed the game on a 12-2 run to get the win. Tim Duncan had 16 third quarter points to lead that charge and Tony Parker had 11 in the second half as well (they were the only Spurs in double figures for the game). The Spurs spread the floor with shooters in the second half and with them knocking down shots the Rockets could not keep up.

Trail Blazers 112, Bobcats 68: Man, the Bobcats are terrible. Just awful. It’s really hard to describe.

Clippers 107, Jazz 105: The Clippers have beaten Denver in Denver, Oklahoma City, and now Utah in Utah within a week. They are legit and getting better each game. The Clips executed better down the stretch, thanks in large part to Chris Paul, who had 12 of his 34 in the fourth quarter and was masterful. Blake Griffin had 31 points, 14 boards and three blocks. Al Jefferson had 27 for the Jazz, who got a good amount of points but could not stop the Clipper offense, which is a juggernaut.

Chris Paul says players don’t really talk about money in locker room

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Locker room banter flies all over the conversational map: Clubs/restaurants to first cars to rappers to Fortnite to why Player X never has any lotion and always has to borrow someone else’s.

What doesn’t come up? Money.

That according to Chris Paul, who should know after 14 years in the league and now serving as the players’ union president. He was talking about his campaign to help players become more financially aware and said this to Clevis Murray of The Athletic.

“I think the reason why I’m so passionate about this is because I’m finishing up my 14th year in the NBA, and I’ve been around long enough to realize that guys in our league, we talk about everything in the locker room except for finance, except for money,” he said. “Nobody talks about money, because it’s one of those uncomfortable things.”

It’s a strange dynamic in an NBA locker room because everybody knows what everybody else makes, it’s very public, and that provides a certain measuring stick of worth.

Yet how does one player tell another “man, your entourage is too big, you’re blowing your money.” Players finally making money understandably want to take care of family and close friends, but other people come into their life and things can spiral fast. CP3 says he gets it, and he is working with Joe Smith — who made $60 million in NBA earnings and lost all of it — to help prepare rookies.

The stories of NBA players blowing through their money absolutely happen, but they also are not the majority, and the numbers are shrinking. More and more players are learning to be smarter with their money and set themselves up on some level for life after basketball. Not all, but guys who stick in the league a few years tend to learn. If Paul and the union can come up with ways to reach players at an earlier age and prepare them for what is to come, all the better.

Bobby Portis says watch out for underrated Knicks, they could make playoffs

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You don’t want a player on your team that heads into the season thinking, “we suck, I just hope we can get to 20 wins and not be embarrassed every night.” Even if that might be the reality for that roster.

Enter Bobby Portis of the New York Knicks. The Wizards let him walk to save money and he has ended up on a Knicks team with a lot of guys who see themselves as underrated: Elfrid Payton, Marcus Morris, and Julius Randle. Plus New York has young players with a lot to prove — especially after Summer League — in Kevin Knox, R.J. Barrett, and Mitchell Robinson.

Portis likes this underdog team, he told Alex Kennedy of Hoopshype.

I love being underrated, man. I’m an underdog. I say that every day. We’re the team that’s being counted out right now. People are looking past us. They’re talking about stars going to new teams and this and that, and that’s okay. Everybody on this team has a huge chip on their shoulder. We’re the guys who are always picked second. I think that’s going to make us close. Our practices are going to be top-notch; we’re all going to be competing and that’s going to make us better. We have a lot of dogs on this team, which will help us out as well. Collectively, we all have a chip on our shoulder – a log on our shoulder – so we’re going to go out there and play with an edge. I think that’s great for us.

So… playoffs?

Yeah, for sure, for sure. The naysayers, the haters, the people who are doubting us will say that we’re crazy as hell for saying that. But we have a bunch of guys who are coming in each and every day with that log on their shoulder and that’s going to push us to become a great team. We have a lot of pieces who can play. I think we’re loaded at every position; there are two-to-three players who could start at every position. When you have that much talent, that rises the competitiveness and improves the team as a whole.

That is exactly the attitude you want to see heading into the season.

The Knicks are going to struggle this year, talent wins out in the NBA and the Knicks don’t have enough of it. However, if the goal is to build a culture of gritty players who go play all out and are tough to play against — the cultures the Nets and Clippers developed that drew stars to them — the Knicks are on a decent road. New York didn’t pull a classic Knicks this year and overspend on a couple of second-tier stars when they struck out on the big guns, they went out and got decent players on short contracts. Stay flexible, build a culture.

We’ll see if Portis will be part of that going forward, but he has the right attitude.

Report: Lakers claim Kostas Antetokounmpo off waivers

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Giannis Antetokounmpo is a 24-year-old MVP playing in Milwaukee and heading toward a super-max decision that could have him hit 2021 unrestricted free agency.

Big-market teams are licking their chops.

That probably has something to do with the Lakers adding his brother, Kostas Antetokounmpo.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Kostas Antetokounmpo was the last pick in last year’s draft. He spent the season on a two-way contract with the Mavericks, who just waived him. He’ll remain on a two-way deal with the Lakers. The 21-year-old was alright in the NBA’s minor league, but he’s not a tantalizing prospect.

Except for his connection to Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Giannis Antetokounmpo said he could never see himself playing for Los Angeles. But maybe he’d change his mind if someone close to him has a positive experience there. That must be the Lakers’ hope, at least.

It’s worth a shot, and the Lakers aren’t the only team trying this angle. The Bucks also signed Thanasis Antetokounmpo this summer.

Harden on fit with Westbrook: ‘When you have talent like that, it works itself out’

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It was the question everybody asked about 30 seconds after they heard Russell Westbrook had been traded to the Houston Rockets for Chris Paul (after the initial shock of the deal wore off):

Do Westbrook and Harden, two of the most ball-dominant, isolation heavy players in the NBA, actually fit together?

Harden says yes. Of course, what else is he going to say, but he was earnest about it in comments to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle at the Adidas and James Harden ProCamp event last Friday.

“When you have talent like that, it works itself out. You communicate. You go out there and compete possession by possession. You figure things out. Throughout the course of the season, you figure things out. That’s just what it is. When you have talent, you have guys with IQ, you have guys willing to sacrifice, it always works itself out.”…

“It works,” Harden said. “It’s that trust factor. I trust him; he trusts me. And with the group that we already have and the things we already accomplished, it should be an easy transition for him to be incorporated right in and things are going to go.”

That is essentially is what Mike D’Antoni said, and what Rockets GM Daryl Morey is betting on.

Will Westbrook, and to a lesser degree Harden, be willing to make sacrifices and adjust their games? It is the question that will define the Rockets’ season.

My prediction: The duo works it out on offense and becomes one of the hardest teams to stop in the NBA. They will work it out. However, having to play Harden and Westbrook together on defense for extended stretches will cost Houston in the playoffs earlier than they planned.